“There’s a new buzzword in college admissions that should guide your summer plans – the word is ‘authenticity,’” one expert told us. “Do what you love,” said another. For college hopefuls, quality beats quantity.
by Shannon Philpott
High school students often go to great lengths to compile an impressive college application packet. Beyond working day and night to earn solid grades and above average ACT or SAT scores, many college hopefuls are burning candles at both ends volunteering in the community, joining multiple clubs, participating in athletic programs, and working with student councils.
Although it is important to put your best foot forward and accomplish goals, biting off more than you can chew is not always the best approach, according to Jennifer Kabat, M.Ed., college admissions consultant, former admissions officer, and co-editor of Get Into College.
“It’s not how much you do,” Kabat told Parent USA City. “It’s what you’ve done with your interests.”
Tricia Powell, student at University of California at Berkeley, said that collecting activities only to impress college officials can not only exhaust high school students but also deter the primary purpose of the activity.
“Don’t overextend yourself,” Powell said. “It’s more impressive to be editor-in-chief of your student newspaper and a junior varsity track runner than a member of 15 varied clubs.”
Kabat agreed. “Don’t take on more or too much. Your extracurricular activities should come from a genuine interest, and the depth of these interests will strengthen a college application or resume.”
Do what you love
According to Kabat, college admissions advisors are not looking for quantity but rather quality. “The most important piece of advice I can give is for students to do what they love,” Kabat said.
That love may involve sports, a talent such as dancing or singing, a woodworking craft, mechanical skill, or caring for children. Kabat suggests linking interests so that there is a depth of interest for both you and the recipients of your cause. For example, softball players may spend time umpiring or coaching kids at not-for-profit summer camps. Musicians may choose to tutor or teach music lessons at community centers or local grade schools.
“Administrators are savvy and they can sense authenticity on college applications—what you love to do will shine through,” Kabat said.
According to Doretta Katzter Goldberg, president of College Directions, LLC, authenticity goes a long way in college admissions departments. “There’s a new buzzword in college admissions that should guide your summer plans—the word is ‘authenticity’ and it means living your teenage years in a purposeful way.”
Authenticity is the “long-overdue idea that the way to success and that ‘perfect’ college is to work hard at finding and improving upon the innermost and real you,” Goldberg told Parent USA City.
“It is not the activity that is important as much as the purpose it serves in enriching your life,” she said. “Do not collect activities just to fit the profile of some imaginary school.”
Summers are key
Beyond the authenticity of your activities, college admission officers also look at how students spend their summers. “Make good use of your summers,” Kabat advises. “Link your job or internships to your interests.”
Colin Campbell, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found a way to link his love of journalism to a job that helped him get into college. “I worked at a local radio station as a newscaster and DJ most of my summers during high school,” Campbell said. “Given that my academic and professional interest is in journalism and broadcasting, I think this experience looks good to admissions people. Also, it’s unique.”
Kabat warns that while volunteer activities and internships are impressive, the responsibility of maintaining a job is just as impressive to college admissions officers. “If you have to work, that’s understandable,” Kabat said. “A lot of learning happens on the job and there is a real understanding of that at the admissions level. Jobs show a sense of responsibility.”
In the end, admissions officers just want to know that students are active and motivated, Kabat said. “Really look at yourself and say, ‘What do I want to do?’ and then do what you love.”
Shannon Philpott is a writer/reporter with 10-plus years of experience, and a college journalism instructor. She maintains a blog about writing, reflecting, and teaching at shannonphilpott.com.
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